**Note: This was a print-only story**
The Crimson White spoke to Daily Reveille sports editor Chandler Rome in Baton Rouge, La., to get his take on LSU’s slow starts, quarterback Zach Mettenberger and who the X-factor for the Tigers will be.
Crimson White: With two losses this season, this game doesn’t have nearly as big of implications for LSU as it has in years past. Has that changed the team’s mood at all, heading into this year’s game?
Chandler Rome: It’s been tough to tell since the Tigers had an open date this past week and were not made available to the media as often as usual. But judging from their body language and quotes from the few opportunities we did have to speak with them, the team sees the trip to Tuscaloosa as a golden opportunity to right some wrongs. The players have been blunt in their assessment and disappointment in the Ole Miss debacle and subsequent lackadaisical first half against Furman. I think they’ll use the game to showcase on a national stage that they’re still playing for something, even though it’s not what the ultimate goal was to begin the season.
CW: The Tigers have been notoriously slow starters for much of this season, with Les Miles even questioning his team’s first-half desire in LSU’s last game against Furman. In your opinion, what do they need to do to avoid falling behind early against Alabama?
CR: The common denominator in the Tigers’ last two slow starts was interceptions. Zach Mettenberger threw three ugly picks in the first half against Ole Miss, then followed suit with a pick-six against Furman to give the Paladins an early 7-0 lead. Plain and simple, the Tigers can’t turn the football over, especially against a dynamic offense like Alabama. Motivation has also been a concern of late. The Tigers looked largely lifeless and apathetic against both Ole Miss and Furman, I think because of a perceived inferiority of both opponents. I know the team recognizes Alabama’s firepower and the playmakers it boasts on both sides of the ball, so I can’t see a motivationally-based slow start in the cards for Saturday.
CW: After a great start to the season, Zach Mettenberger has hit a bit of a rough patch in his last three outings for LSU. Which Mettenberger should we expect to see against Alabama?
CR: Well, if it’s anything like last year’s contest and the first six games of this season, we’ll see a refined pocket passer who uses the two NFL-caliber receivers he has in his arsenal to his advantage. However, in the last two games, it’s been evident that Mettenberger has been too reliant on both Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. For example, all three interceptions against Ole Miss were thrown toward Beckham, who was covered very well all evening. Mettenberger handled a raucous Athens, Ga. crowd very well earlier this season, even in a loss, so I don’t see the road environment being too daunting. But if he stakes his entire passing attack on forcing balls in to Beckham and Landry in coverage, he could be in for another difficult night.
CW: This year’s LSU defense doesn’t have nearly as many recognizable names as what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing. Who are some players Alabama fans should familiarize themselves with prior to this game?
CR: There aren’t many, honestly. The LSU defense has had flashes of decency littered throughout its season, but I’d characterize the majority of its play as dumpster fire-esque. The two interior linemen, Anthony “Freak” Johnson and Ego Ferguson both came into the season with unreal expectations that they have not lived up to. An intriguing name at defensive end is Jermauria Rasco, who has been a nice sparkplug to the defense and is quietly replacing Sam Mongtomery and Barkevious Mingo very well. Other than Rasco, fans should look for Lamin Barrow in the middle, who is the Tigers’ leading tackler and freshman cornerback Tre’Davious White, who usurped a starting position earlier this season and has shown flashes of brilliance mixed with rookie mishaps. I’ll be interested to see how White keeps his head trying to cover all of AJ McCarron’s potential targets.
CW: It seems like every year, this game is ultimately decided by one big play from a playmaker. In your opinion, who will be the X-factor for LSU in this game, if the Tigers are to win?
CR: The X-factor in my mind has to be Jeremy Hill, who I think will be the best pure football player on the field on Saturday. He’s had an up and down season, starting it off on the bench as he was suspended for his second arrest after an off-campus bar fight, then returned to form by spouting off 5 100-yard rushing games in his last six appearances. But a first quarter fumble against Ole Miss landed him back in Les Miles’ bad graces and he sparingly saw the field in the first half as things spiraled out of reach. Hill has the talent and ability to break off a 30-yard run on command and can put games out of reach with his bruising style. If the Tigers can get him going and keep him churning for 18-23 carries, they shouldn’t have a problem moving the football.
Prediction: LSU has given me no reason to believe it can stop Alabama. I have every reason to believe the tandem of AJ McCarron and T.J. Yeldon will shred a young, depleted Tiger defense to the tune of 400 total yards. And, as of late, Zach Mettenberger hasn’t given me much optimism about his ability to lead a once potent offense. I think LSU keeps this close, mostly by virtue of Jeremy Hill’s running. And, of course, it is Alabama, so the Tigers will have some pep in their step, which has been largely absent of late. Still, Nick Saban and the Tide get it done, pulling away for a comfortable 34-21 win.